Santa Fe Institute

Nature's formula: Why do larger animals live (predictably) longer?

Jan. 24, 2013 11:12 a.m.

NPR's Robert Krulwich reviews SFI research finding that, at the species level, average lifespans for larger animals is longer, and for smaller animals shorter, and that a relatively simple formula -- a power law -- seems to describe the lifespans of all living creatures.

Individuals species, and individuals within species, vary around these regularities, of course, but the pattern is striking, according to SFI Distinguished Professor Geoffrey West.

"Everything alive will eventually die, we know that, but now we can read the pattern and see death coming," writes Krulwich. "We have recently learned its logic, which 'You can put into mathematics,' says physicist Geoffrey West. It shows up with 'extraordinary regularity,' not just in plants, but in all animals, from slugs to giraffes. Death, it seems, is intimately related to size."

The blog post describes a landmark 2007 paper by West and collaborators, which, Krulwich says, remains controversial among biologists but which also has been cited more than 1,500 times by other researchers since it was published.

Read the article in NPR's Krulwich Wonders blog (January 22, 2013)

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